Solar flagships ‘picking losers’ with gas hybrid

After the disappointing news that Mildura missed out on federal funding for a solar power plant, we also had the news that the Areva solar-thermal plant for Chinchilla, in Queensland, is to receive funding – and will be backed up by gas. Chinchilla is in the heart of the area where coal-seam gas is being extracted by destructive “fracking” techniques, of which Friends of the Earth is part of the campaign against.

Below is the press release from Beyond Zero Emissions on the decision.

22 June 2011: Labor’s Solar Flagships: Smoke and Mirrors….and coal seam gas

The Federal Government’s choice of picking French state owned nuclear giant Areva to build a Solar plant based on out-dated technology is a move that has surprised the global solar industry. The proposed plant near the controversial coal seam gas fields at Chinchilla is a missed opportunity to build Australia’s first baseload solar plant.

As the rest of the world seizes the opportunity to use low-cost molten salt energy storage technology to build truly baseload solar thermal power plants, the Gillard government has chosen outdated inferior technology with gas backup in a cynical attempt to justify destructive coal seam gas extraction on prime agricultural land in Queensland’s Darling Downs.

“As people now realise that renewable energy can provide baseload power, the main excuse for coal seam gas extraction evaporates”, says Mark Ogge, renewable energy campaigner, Beyond Zero Emissions.

“It is ironic that just as the Spanish unveil the Torresol Gemasolar power tower plant near Seville, that runs fifteen hours flat out into the night with molten salt energy storage technology, providing utility scale baseload solar power to the Spanish grid, the Australian government chooses inferior low efficiency linear Fresnel technology with completely unnecessary gas backup,” says Ogge.

Spain now has seven baseload molten salt solar power plants up and running. The US is building a 1000 MW solar thermal plant with 6 hours storage, equivalent in size to a large coal fired power station. Gas hybrid technology is 30 years out of date, and linear Fresnel technology is far inferior to efficient high temperature power towers.

“If the government is serious about developing a renewable energy industry, it would put in place a Feed in Tariff for renewable energy at all scales and for all renewable technologies, based on the highly successful German model which has already achieved rapid cost reductions in commercial renewable technologies. While the government is quick to suggest they are not in the business of ‘picking winners’, the Solar Flagships announcement has actually shown they are picking losers,” Ogge said.

“Feed in Tariffs have shown to be the most successful market-based mechanism for developing a strong portfolio of renewable energy technologies, and will leave the market to decide the most suitable technologies, rather than Energy Minister Martin Ferguson’s favourite of the Solar Flagships beauty pageant.”

“Australian’s are now waking to the reality that renewables don’t need gas as backup, leaving no more justification for any further development of the dangerous gas industry. We should take the shortcut that the US and Europe are taking and  move straight to baseload solar plants, that not only store the suns energy for night time, but dynamically provide the backup needed for other renewables such as wind power and rooftop solar,” said Mr Ogge.

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